After fellow national food critic Alan Richman declared last month that San Francisco was currently the city in the U.S. "that chefs have to visit to learn what's going on in American cooking," the Journal's Bruce Palling appears to have immediately hopped a plane. He doesn't take quite the same young-chef angle as Richman, choosing instead to start at Coi, noting that chef-owner Daniel Patterson is credited with having first vocalized the backlash against Alice Waters-style orthodoxy about California cuisine with a piece he wrote in the Times almost six years ago.
Palling compliments the complexity of Patterson's food, especially a "visually arresting" beet rose dish, and gets a good quote from Patterson about where Californian, and American chefs, should go from here. "The central question right now is what does it mean to be an American cook?" says Patterson. "I think we are a very young culture, especially if you compare our cuisine with French, Italian or Russian or Chinese. The thing that gets overlooked is that California was only born a century and a half agobefore that it was Mexico and even earlier, it was lived in by Native Americans. European cuisine is the bedrock of our techniques but in the future we will see more influence from Central and South America too. Where cooking is going now will require a much deeper understanding of the memory of our place."
Next, Palling makes a quick mention of Zuni Café, saying he always makes a stop there when he's in town, and he moves on to Incanto, which he calls "the most innovative Italian restaurant" in the city. He notes that despite chef Chris Cosentino's reputation for using offal, "The majority of his dishes don't involve offal at all; one of the most succulent experiences of my meal was game hen, eggplant, chili and smoked capers."
He also ventures to Commis in Oakland, his only overlap with Richman, applauding chef James Syhabout for looking to some of the most innovative restaurants in Europe for inspirations. He compliments a dish of beetroot with Oakland honey, bee pollen, horseradish, and mustard as having "excellent balance."
Talkin' Bout an Evolution [WSJ]
Related: Alan Richman Hearts S.F. Now, Calls New York Restaurants ‘Predictable’ [Grub Street]
To the Moon, Alice! [NYT - 2005]